Which car to get?
August 26, 2007 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Which used car to buy: Infiniti I30 or Mazda 626?

Okay, I'm trying to choose between a 2002 Mazda 626 (V4, LX trim with safety package) and a 1998 Infiniti I30. Both have the same mileage (70k) and are automatic. The Mazda has a $700 lower asking price, but I would have to discount the cost of installing a cooling system, which is like $200. Mazda's sold by a reputable seeming used car dealership, Infiniti by a private seller.

It seems like the Infiniti is a nicer car with better customer reviews on MSN and all kinds of cool shit like leather seats and new tires, but I like the looks of the Mazda better, and the Mazda doesn't have to take premium gas and comes with a 4-month warranty from the dealership. I did a Carfax on the Mazda (don't have the VIN for the Infiniti yet) and it came out clean with 3 owners (one of them a rental company). It's been recorded as different colors in its history, if that matters--it was originally gray, it's gray now, but it's twice recorded as being yellow). The Infiniti has had one owner.

I am not planning on doing anything really exciting with my car, just driving 15 miles a day to and from work in awful traffic, parking on the street, and occasionally making 250-mile round trip weekend vacations. It snows where I live, if that makes a difference, but they plow well too. I am also a kind of mediocre driver and my boyfriend will be learning to drive in this car, so safety and repair costs matter. Anyone have thoughts or suggestions?

Posting here instead of Edmunds because I got really bad advice last time I tried the Edmunds forums.
posted by phoenixy to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Which one feels nicer to sit in and drive?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:36 PM on August 26, 2007

Don't buy an ex-rental car. I cant imagine that being a good sign. I imagine you can do a lot better with the 7-8k you want to spend than a 10 year old car. If I had to choose I'd go with the non-rental Infiniti.

Generally as a rule, repairs on a foreign car will always be more than a domestic car. Maybe even 2x as much. If repairs are a real concern I'd wouldnt be looking at either of these cars. Some people are very tempted to buy a higher-class car used (something they could never afford new) but that usually bites them in the ass as maintenance on an expensive car is, well, expensive.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:36 PM on August 26, 2007

"...but I would have to discount the cost of installing a cooling system..."

I don't understand this comment, at all. If you're talking about servicing the cooling system, it shouldn't cost more than $50-60, max.

The Mazda has average mileage for a car of that model year, and it is a front wheel drive. The Infiniti is low mileage, but it is a soon-to-be 10 year old rear drive car. A front wheel drive car is a bit easier to control on snowy roads for novice drivers than a rear wheel drive vehicle without an electronic traction control system. The Infiniti is too old to have electronic traction control, although it became a feature on later models.

On Kelley Blue Book, the retail value of the Mazda in "excellent" condition is about $1,200 more than the private party value of the Infiniti in "good" condition. But the Mazda was a rental vehicle, which is almost a tip off that it is not "excellent" condition, although rental vehicles do get mechanical service on factory schedules. They just tend to get beat like rented mules in the rental fleet, run on cheap gas, and flogged harder than most people renting them would run their own cars. I don't know that I would buy a rental car, although I have bought corporate lease vehicles, which are generally driven by a single driver, and treated pretty well.

The Infiniti was probably a better car at the time it was made, but it is 4 model years older. Time works on rubber parts, in particular, and parts and service are generally more expensive for Infiniti than Mazda cars. You'd need to see a complete service record for the Infiniti, and look into what costs you'll be seeing for 90,000 or 100,000 mile services in the next year or two, compared to the Mazda, to get an idea of total costs of ownership.

You'd have to have a sharp eye on the Mazda, to check it for body damage, given the CarFax history and color discrepancies. And either the Mazda price is low, or the Infiniti price is high.
posted by paulsc at 8:39 PM on August 26, 2007

If I were you, with your quoted driving experience and expectations I would buy the 626. I know a few people that have run their 626's up to 200,000 without anything more than expected maintenance.
The different colors is a little weird and I would take it to get it inspected buy a trusted mechanic first just to make sure everything like the frame etc. are as they should be.
Mazda's are notorious for chippy paint too so it could be that the last owner just wanted to give it a refresh.

You didn't mention test driving either of them. That would be the most important decision to me...which one did you like driving better?

I prefer rear wheel drive so out of those two I would pick the Infinity with a manual =] even though I would be tempted to keep it in the mazda family since I have an rx-8 and my girlfriend has a mazda3.

Good luck!
posted by zephyr_words at 9:28 PM on August 26, 2007

stay as far away from an infiniti as humanly possible. whatever you do don't buy one!!!! i got one, a Q45, with about 100,000 miles (yeah, alot of miles, but still) and it was an absolute nightmare. within the first year and a half it required work, 500$ a pop, four times. they're unreliable, i hate buying cars and didn't do enough work researching it, i was in a hurry for a car. but afterwords, wherever i looked online, the ratings on infiniti's were mid to really low on reliability. pardon me if i'm being over the top, but it was really such a horrible experience and i can't tell you the number of times i cursed that goddamn car. don't, just don't, please.
posted by andywolf at 9:58 PM on August 26, 2007

plus, my infiniti was rear wheel in seattle, it was horrible and dangerous. if you're in snow that's even worse, you'll be spinning out everywhere unless you put a few hundred pounds of sandbags in the trunk.
posted by andywolf at 10:02 PM on August 26, 2007

Cooling system: The 626s of that generation have known transmission overheating problems. I'd want to install a system to cool down the transmission.
posted by phoenixy at 12:00 AM on August 27, 2007

"...I'd want to install a system to cool down the transmission."
posted by phoenixy at 3:00 AM on August 27 [+] [!]

It'd be your money, but as far as I'm concerned, that would be like putting lipstick on a pig. If your soon to be 6 year old car with 70,000 miles on it had a bad automatic transmission, and you're dropping $2500 on a complete overhaul, maybe spending another couple hundred bucks on a doodad to provide additional cooling for the transmission fluid would make you feel better (any car with an automatic already has a stock transmission fluid cooler, up at the bottom of the radiator). OTOH, if the car is driving OK, I would reason it had gotten through 70,000 miles without the doodad, and adding it now wouldn't mean much to a transmission which had normal wear and tear. You're probably talking about a car with the Ford CD4E 4 speed transmission, which isn't a great unit, but which did have the benefit of numerous internal fixes and upgrades by the time the car you're considering was built (2002 being the last model year for 626 production).

I would certainly check the transmission fluid condition, and have the existing fluid and transmission filter changed, if I bought that car. But nothing you're talking about doing with the car is "severe" service, even for the Ford CD4E transmission that car probably has. It's a 4 cylinder car, that you're talking about driving pretty lightly. And in winter, if the transmission fluid isn't fully up to temperature, it isn't even sent to the transmission cooler in most transmission designs.

Personally, what I find very strange about the whole situation you describe is that the Mazda has a $700 dollar lower asking price, going in, than the Infiniti. Unless the Infiniti owner is crazy, that's just out of whack, for cars in decent condition, without prior accidents or major problems. I'd personally be leery of both these vehicles, and for a person in your position, I'd probably be looking for a domestic vehicle, like a Dodge Intrepid or a Chevy Malibu, of 2003 or 2004 vintage, with fewer miles. For the Blue Book retail value of the Mazda in my zip code ($8490), you could nearly get a 2004 Chevy Malibu with 53,000 miles, or a 2004 Dodge Intrepid with 53,000 miles. Of course, vehicle availability and price vary with your locale, and I've used my north Florida zip code as the base for these comparisons, but the point I'm trying to make is that, if you're not locked into Mazda or Infiniti, you could be getting newer cars with less miles, which will generally translate into fewer problems, which is what damn dirty ape was telling you, up thread, too.
posted by paulsc at 1:02 AM on August 27, 2007

I had an '85 Mazda 626 from 95-2000. I put more money into repairs during that time than I paid for the thing. Parts were *far* more expensive than the ones for other cars I've owned & weren't as readily available. It drove ok, but I'm much happier with my '97 Geo Prizm. It's not as sexy, but it's been incredibly reliable and has needed almost no repairs at all in 7 years. (For what it's worth, my driving habits sound much like what you describe yours being - not many miles a day, street parking, some snow, etc..)
posted by belladonna at 8:47 AM on August 27, 2007

I have a 2000 Infiniti G20 with 130k miles on it, runs like it doesn't notice. Inifniti's are great cars as long as they are maintained, will run int ot he ground, just get the vehicle history report.
posted by iamabot at 9:51 AM on August 27, 2007

The 2002 Mazda has had three owners, including a rental company. That would give me pause.

Why has it been repainted twice? I'd be wary of one repainting, even if there were no color change. How likely is it that excellent prep was done both times? Poor prep will eventually lead to peeling or chipping, and visible yellow paint on your gray car.
posted by wryly at 10:27 AM on August 27, 2007

You have to do a bit of imagining here. What kind of life has the Mazda had to end up where it is today?

Mazda owner 2 buys it -- what, two or three years ago? -- presumably at an ex-rental discount, perhaps at an auction, and paints it yellow? (Who chooses to get a car resprayed yellow? A boy racer? Or is there something more sinister w/r/t the VIN, perhaps a switcheroo with another 626.)

Let's discount sinister: owner three peels the bananamobile, then takes it to a dealer, potentially as a guaranteed-price trade-in? I'm sure the dealer is reputable, but pretty much all dealers take people's Problem Cars as trades, and I suspect this dealer wants the Mazda to become Somebody Else's Problem.

I also wonder whether the Infiniti is about to hit the point in its life when it becomes a cash-sink for the owner, especially if it doesn't have a decent service history, but it sets off fewer alarm bells than the Mazda. So count me with the 'keep looking, if possible' answers.
posted by holgate at 10:58 AM on August 27, 2007

Thanks all for your advice. I've decided to forego both cars and instead will probably get a newer (2003) model Protege.
posted by phoenixy at 9:07 AM on August 28, 2007

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